Coronavirus reveals how ableist we have been all along

Since people started to realize that American exceptionalism does not apply to infectious disease, I’ve seen a lot of social media posts, news articles and infographics that say some version of the following: “Coronavirus is most dangerous for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.” 

It must be nice to read that sentence and think, “Wow, I’m all good then. Guess I’ll go about my usual business.” Many people have that mindset, and I would just like to point out: I can hear you.

I can hear you as I stockpile as much insulin and insulin pump supplies as I can. As I worry whether I’ll be able to keep enough food with simple carbs on hand if the panic-buying continues. As I sit in self-quarantine, wondering whether I’ll be able to live without fear of contracting an illness that has an elevated mortality rate for me, but equally, the fear that if I experience a health crisis unrelated to COVID-19, I will not be able to be seen by any medical professionals, and I will die alone. 

Or that, if I do get in to be seen, the overcrowding of our healthcare system and the lack of resources will expose me to the novel coronavirus while at the hospital. 

Every time you feel relief that you’re not in a high risk group, every time you think it’s okay to come back to campus even though every administrator has told you not to, every time you think the world is overreacting, every time you go out anyway, I hear you. I know you don’t care if I die. In fact, it’s comforting to you that I might die. 

If you think that COVID-19 is just a worse version of the flu, please know that getting the flu could lead me to sepsis, coma, brain damage or death. 

My underlying condition has nothing to do with my respiratory tract and I’m relatively healthy, but there’s still a very real chance that if I touch the wrong surface or stand within coughing distance of another human, it’s a death sentence.

Maybe you’re just now starting to panic as you realize that maybe this thing won’t blow over, maybe it will affect your life financially, or maybe it will at least inconvenience you. But I and millions of others whose “underlying health conditions” are just one clause in a sentence meant to calm your panic? We’ve been trying to figure out how to survive this for months already, and you’re not helping. 

This isn’t just about not being selfish, about staying home (although those are important steps). It’s about the fact that millions of people have decided that because the immunocompromised and those with underlying health conditions are a relatively small portion of the population, being told they might die is a comfort.

I get it—you care more about checking up on Betty White (who representatives say is fine, because I know those of you who just read that name are now worried about her) and Tom Hanks and Idris Elba and the 58 people associated with the Utah Jazz plus Kevin Durant.

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